by request: dazed and confused (richard linklater, 1993)
music friday: marianne faithfull, broken english

matt cain

At least one person is waiting patiently for my take on Matt Cain. Turning off my brain for a second, I’m glad that Matt Cain will be part of the Giants family for years to come. I don’t know about other teams in other sports … I can only speak of the Giants. But the organization does a great job of presenting itself as a family, and yes, it’s all in the name of the almighty dollar, but even so, it’s nice to think that they believe that selling the idea of family is a good thing.

One way they do this is by honoring their past. Start with the various statues surrounding the park at China Basin: Willie Mays (the park may be named after a corporate sponsor, but the address is 24 Willie Mays Plaza), Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda. All of those men (except Marichal, who I believe lives outside the U.S.) are at the park on a regular basis. There are the literal families: Bobby Bonds begat Barry Bonds, whose godfather was Mays. Or Darren Baker … It was a bad idea on so many levels, and it resulted in a dangerous, if memorable, play in the 2002 World Series, but until that moment, it was a perfect example of the Giants Way that 3-year-old Darren, son of the team’s manager, was a bat boy.

The team’s television announcers, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, smoothly work the notion of family into their telecasts. Kruk and Kuip are themselves former Giants, and everything about their style, from Kuip’s amiable thank yous to Amy G when she does a brief cut-in to Kruk’s bestowing the honorific “he’s a good Giant” on someone like the bullpen coach, extend the family feel. (Some are annoyed that the camera so often finds kids in the crowd, but that, too, is part of the family concept.)

I don’t mean in all of this that the Giants are a G-rated entertainment … even if they were, Barry took care of that. The Giants family isn’t like the Cleavers or the Huxtables. They are more like the motley crew that finally won the World Series, with long-haired pitchers and bearded closers and thong-wearing sluggers and an outfielder in black leather S&M gear.

Matt Cain has been a Giant his entire professional career. He has performed at a high level. He’s not very demonstrative … next to some of the characters in the Giants family, he’s pretty ordinary. But he has been with the big club longer than any other current player. He is the ultimate example on the field of that mystery known as the Giant Family, and like I say, I’m glad he’ll be staying.

Switching my brain back to the on position … was this a good deal for the Giants? The negatives are obvious: they’re giving Cain an enormous amount of money, which carries risk, and Cain is a pitcher, besides, and pitchers are always risks because of the abuse their arms go through. The Giants, more than most teams, are aware of the potential folly in signing pitchers to expensive, long-term deals (Barry Zito).

But … Cain is not Zito. Sharp analysts could already see the likelihood of decline in Zito when the contract was signed (at the time, I was relatively kind, saying Zito would be OK for the first part of his contract, but “I don’t expect him to be a fine pitcher by the year 2010, and he will have four years to go on his contract at that time”). Cain is younger than Zito was when he signed, and his track record suggests his decline won’t be as severe as Zito’s. More important, his decline may not even happen during the contract, because he is signed, not for seven years, but for five. If I had to point to the best thing about the deal, it’s that part about five years. Yes, a 5-year deal for a pitcher is risky, but Cain would seem to have as good a chance as anyone of making it through those five years relatively unscathed.

Did the Giants pay too much? The general opinion seems to be that next year, when Cain would have been a free agent, a lot of money will be thrown around, and Cain’s contract will seem almost like a bargain. Right now, of course, he has signed the biggest contract for a right-handed pitcher in baseball history (on a per-season basis in a multi-year contract).

With my brain, I’m a bit torn by the deal, which does nothing to address the biggest problem on the team (hitting). But, as you can tell by the amount of time I spent blathering about “family”, my heart is just fine with the signing. I understand that in saying this, I am stepping outside of my standard, cold-hearted, routine, and getting all sappy. There’s nothing I can do about that.